Nothing says summer in Colorado quite like standing amid a colorful carpet of wildflowers swaying in the breeze, beneath a crown of craggy peaks and an azure sky. But where exactly can you find this quintessential Colorado experience? Below are some of my favorite spots to seek out stunning wildflower displays, which usually “peak” in July. As you explore, keep a sharp eye out for storms that build up in the afternoon, and be sure to heed the safety tips in the back of my book Moon Colorado, as well as these from the National Parks Service.
The American Basin offers amazing opportunity to see radiant wildflowers in a tranquil setting. Located high above the tiny town of Lake City (55 miles south of Gunnison), this alpine basin is typically packed with fields of wildflowers, including the showy blue-and-white blossoms of the Colorado Blue columbine (Colorado’s state flower), and glowing fireweed, named for its frequent appearance in recently burned areas. The adventurous road to the trailhead requires a 4×4, which can be rented in Lake City, or a walk from one of the many pullouts where 2WD vehicles can park along the way. From the trailhead (11,600’) for Handies Peak, it’s an easy stroll through the verdant meadows beneath the jagged cirque.
If you’re in Aspen, you don’t have to travel far out of town for excellent color displays; one of the best spots begins at the edge of town along Hunter Creek. Here you can stroll through sun-dappled groves of quaking aspen, as well as lush meadows filled with lupine, buttercups, orchids, and snapdragons. With lovely views of the area’s snow-crowned peaks and glimpses of historic mines and dilapidated prospector cabins, it’s a great place for a classic Colorado photo-op.
One of the premier hikes near Boulder, Mount Audubon is also one of the best places in the Front Range to view wildflowers. The trailhead is easily accessible via paved roads, and you can usually see wonderful displays of yellow, purple, and blue flowers close to the trailhead without having to walk too far. Try to get to this popular spot early in the day, when the crowds are thinner and the light is better.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Among the many excellent wildflower-viewing spots in Rocky Mountain National Park, Ute Trail stands out for its blooms—as well as its gorgeous views. Because it’s accessed from a high (11,430’) trailhead, the Ute Trail is almost exclusively above tree line, offering a unique opportunity to view fields of alpine sunflowers and other high-elevation blossoms with very little climbing. While you walk, listen for the squeaks of marmots, the furry creatures who survive in this landscape by feasting on the wildflowers throughout the short summer season.
The legendary displays near Crested Butte, the self-proclaimed “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” are well worth going out of your way for. One of the best viewing spots in the area is Washington Gulch, where you may see a large diversity of flowers, including cinquefoil, wild roses, goldenweed, and the beautiful, rounded clusters of pink blossoms known as Queen’s Crown. Crested Butte’s July Wildflower Festival includes guided hikes, 4×4 tours, and photography classes.
Yankee Boy Basin
One of the most scenic spots in the San Juans, Yankee Boy Basin is another gorgeous alpine basin high above the charming mountain town of Ouray. It is best known for its incredible displays of columbine carpeting the lower slopes of one of Colorado’s prettiest peaks: the 14,157-foot-high Mount Sneffels. The best flower displays are typically just above tree line. Because it can only be accessed via a rough 4WD road, it’s best to get here by jeep tour, such as the three-hour outings offered by Switzerland of America.